Reading Between the Lines

When listening to the tone in Markus Naslund’s voice today when he was talking about the style of play of the Detroit Red Wings, he seemed happier to watch the Wings than playing for the Canucks.

He spoke of how he admires watching the Red Wings play a style of play that Naslund loves to play.  He also said Detroit has the world class players to play that puck possession style that is much a good offence as it is a good defence.

But here’s the problem with Naslund.  His goal totals were dwindling before the last two seasons.  He went from 48 goals in 2003 to 35 goals in 2004 to 32 goals in 2006 before falling even further down in goals with 24 in 2007 and 25 in 2008.

He can’t blame or even hint that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and his defensive style of play is the reason for Naslund’s lack of goals in the past two years and, quite frankly, a lack of passion that is so blatently obvious when you watch him play or watch him in the media scrums after games and practice.

He can’t blame Vigneault because Naslund makes $6 million a year and if Naslund had the skill everyone still believes he has, he would be able to adapt.  Everyone in the league had to adapt when the NHL came out of the lockout.

Being a good player is being able to adapt to situations, whether it’s after a large hit, adapting a pass behind you in full flight, adapting to a different coaching style.

Naslund is soft.  Let’s face it.  He’s a poor choice for captain and if he does indeed come back, the first thing he should do is pass of the ‘C’ to Willie Mitchell, someone that will battle tooth and nail in the trenches, a place where playoff hockey is won and lost.

Naslund can’t do that.  If he wants to come back, he better learn to adapt, better figure out how to rekindle that passion and he better realize he got paid a crap load of money and he should put up or shut up.  Best situation possible is that common sense kicks in for Canucks GM Mike Gillis and he doesn’t decide to bring Naslund back, even for a pay cut.

Inject new life.  Naslund is not a winner, and even when he had Todd Bertuzzi and the West Coast Express, he couldn’t win.  It’s time to bring in a winner.  It’s not a matter of him being a European.  Take Detroit for example.  But Naslund isn’t the calibre of player that Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk are, in fact it’s not even close.

Seeing as how the Canucks organization feels it’s time for a change, then they should take that theory and not even offer Naslund a contract.  His time in this city is done.  Bringing him back will only prove that no one in this city has any kind of hockey sense.

 

Proof the Smartest Hockey People Are in Vancouver

If you needed any more proof that the smartest hockey people aren’t in Toronto, but rather in Vancouver, then today, you probably got it.

The Canucks owner, Francesco Acquilini, has finally hired a brand new general manager after firing Dave Nonis such a long time ago.  Eight long, agonizing days ago.

The new boss:  Mike Gillis.  249 games played in the NHL in the 80’s and a current player agent for such players who get paid $6-million a season to score less than 30 goals.  It’s genius.  It’s simply freaking genius.

Now, not a lot of people really know Mike Gillis but he happens to be the agent for Markus Naslund, the Canucks captain soon-to-be free agent as of July 1st.  That’s if he isn’t resigned and brought back as captain yet again. 

This just goes to show that, like most Canucks fans out there who thought Nonis was an incompetent general manager for his lack of trading away some young guns for Brad Richards, the people that run the show simply don’t know jack about the game of hockey.

The message is for Gillis is simple.  He’s a representative of the players that are on the team, namely Naslund.  His job description has changed.  He can no longer adhere to the demands of players because his first and only task is to make the Vancouver Canucks a winning team.  No offence to Naslund, because he has represented the Canucks with class and dignity -there’s no question- but he has failed to win when it matters the most.  He folds.  He becomes soft.  He was a world class player, but he’s never been a world class winner.

If Gillis is to bring this franchise back to some level of greatness (maybe three playoff rounds instead of two) then he will have to part with his client Naslund.  The leader of this team should be tough, inspiring and fierce.  Naslund doesn’t have any of these traits. 

The mere fact that Acquilini brought in Naslund’s agent as the new general manager doesn’t necessarily mean Naslund will be back at all, but it seems suspicious, doesn’t it?

And the fact that Naslund might be back with the simple hiring of his agent just goes to show that there is no hockey sense in this city, and it starts with the owner of the biggest franchise in Vancouver history.

 

Cam Tucker

Canucks vs. Oilers: Round 7

The last time the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers played each other was just one of those nights when apparently all of hell had broken loose in General Motors Place.

The two teams combined for over 190 penalty minutes and the last minute of the game took a lot longer to play than usual because of the one…no two…no three line brawls that broke out after Alex Burrows made it 4-2 Canucks with an empty-net goal to stop the Oilers.

 Don’t expect that type of game to happen on Thursday night when the Canucks and Oilers meet for the first time since that hockey game-slash-bar room brawl back on Feb. 16.

Now don’t get your knickers in a knot just because there won’t be three line brawls.  The only reason we won’t see a repeat performance of Feb. 16 is because, right now, there is just too much at stake for both teams as they head into the final nine games of the season.

The Oilers have won nine of their last 11 games, albeit most of them in a shootout, and have climbed back into the playoff picture quietly as most of the focus has fallen on teams such the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.  Not only are the Oilers just hanging around and going about their business with much of the hockey world oblivious to their shenanigans, but they’re doing it with the likes of 18-year-old Sam Gagne, Andrew Cogliano, Tyler Brodziak and a supporting cast of players that doesn’t include Shawn Horcoff -who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury- or Ryan Smyth or Chris Pronger, both have moved onto different teams in the west.

Give the Oilers credit.  They’re a young team for the most part, but they give you an honest effort every game and they don’t back down. 

The Canucks still remain the biggest mystery in the NHL’s Western Conference because they can go from a group of tough, ornrie, focused hockey players with one common goal to a team that looks better suited for the exhibition season.  The last two games for the Canucks have been some of their best hockey.  In a 4-3 win in Dallas on Saturday and a 3-1 home victory over Phoenix last night, the Canucks have looked in sync, they have played tough hockey and haven’t backed down from their opponents.  Compare that to the two losses in Phoenix and Anaheim last week where the Canucks looked demoralized and scared of their opponents.

For the Canucks, they have nine games remaining against nine Northwest Division rivals, so they basically get a three week head start on playing playoff hockey.

To make the playoffs, the Canucks need wins.  Thank you Captain Obvious!  The Canucks also need courage.  These next nine games are going to be the toughest hockey of the season because there is very little room for error and the price will be paid physically and mentally.

For both teams, the next game and the eight that will follow are going to be what tells us what either team has.  The Canucks have had their leadership, their grit, their character questioned almost everyday since the All-Star break, so Thursday in Edmonton will be a good way to test their metal.

There won’t be 192 penalty minutes again because neither team can afford to goon it up.  Don’t kid yourself though.  Thursday will be a hard-hitting, nasty dog fight where the winner will be determined by how badly that team truly wants to win.

Saddle up, buckle your seatbelt, get strapped in, use whatever cliche you want for Thursday’s tilt, because it’s going to be a doozie.

Good Ol’ Fashion Hockey

Weaver Fight

The Anaheim Ducks rolled through last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, losing five games through four series and physically dominated just about every opponent.

Another thing the Ducks led the league in, aside from being the best team in the NHL when the dust settled in mid-June, was fighting majors.  Last season, the Ducks dropped the gloves 71 times.  The team with the second highest amount of fighting majors last year was the Phoenix Coyotes who had a whopping 47 when the regular season ended.

Last year’s rendition of the Anaheim Ducks was a great example that hard-nosed, old school hockey can still win – in fact can be downright dominating – in an era of the NHL, which is known more its speed and unwavering skill without toughness.

Now, this year, the Ducks still lead the NHL in fighting majors with 54 as of yesterday.  But this year is different.  The teams closest to the Ducks in terms of the amount of fighting majors are already surpassing the 50-fight plateau, including the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

Vancouver’s total number of fights skyrocketed after Saturday night’s fight-filled affair against the Northwest Division rival Edmonton Oilers in a 4-2 victory on home ice.  The final 40 seconds of the game took almost half an hour to play because there was one post-whistle scuffle and two line brawls, and guess what?

The crowd loved every second of it.

Two teams, desperate for points and not willing to back down at any point in the game clashed in one of the more entertaining hockey games of this year’s NHL schedule.

Anaheim Fight

Seems to be the way of the game right now.  The playoff race is so incredibly close, with maybe only two or three teams that can be unofficially counted out, and with such a close race to get into the post season, no team is willing to back down one little bit.  That’s the way it should be.

A lot of people have been skeptical of the ‘New NHL’ because of the high number of phantom or weak calls on the smallest of infractions and are quick to suggest that the powers that be in New York and Toronto are trying to take the rough stuff, the battles and the scraps that give hockey its edge right out of the game.

Skepticism aside, right now, the edge of hockey has seemingly returned.  There is just too much at stake and players are learning that they better be willing to do just about anything to give their team the competitive edge on the ice.

Take Dion Phaneuf and Shane Doan for example.  Two big boys, former members of the WHL and two former Team Canada World Juniors had a spirited scrap in last night’s Flames 4-1 victory over Phoenix.  You want to get your team fired up?  Getting into a 30 or 40 second bout of fisticuffs with a willing combatant seems to be the way right now and it is adding quite the thrill to a game, which seems to need a punch in the face every now and again to get people’s interest.

If you don’t like fighting in hockey, if you think hockey should be a faster version of golf, then perhaps you might want to change your channel when hockey comes on The way things are so close in both conferences and with the high intensity and high competitive level that every player has, this trend of ‘Fistianna’ is going to keep going strong right through to the final game of the playoffs.

Good.

Cookie Made of Chicken

Cooke

In a game full of fights, line brawls, big hits, beauty goals and more fights, did anyone else notice that Vancouver Canucks forward Matt Cooke did not drop his mitts?

The problem with the Cookie Monster not scrapping out there against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night’s mock-up of the UFC was that he should have.

In the second period, Cooke threw a vicious hit-from-behind on Oilers defenseman Mathieu Roy that had the Oilers’ trainer come running out onto the ice to tend to Roy, a player who has had concussion issues throughout his career.

Following the hit, at least two of the Oilers came after Cooke to confront him about that chicken-s**t-hit-from-behind and the Canucks most over-paid should-be fourth liner didn’t feel he needed to be held accountable for his actions.  The Canucks forward escaped a penalty because the referees both missed a Matt Greene elbow on Ryan Kesler and had to level the playing field.  

Usually if a penalty is not called on a hit that is regarded as cheap, then the players on the other team administer their own brand of justice. In hockey, that’s the nature of the beast. When Greene almost decapitated Kesler’s head, Brad Isbister moved in and dropped his gloves with Greene who, to his credit, was a willing combatant for his hit.

When Cooke was confronted by the Oilers, I’ve never seen a player duck out of a situation like that so fast.  Not only did Cooke get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, but he skated away with that same old smart ass smirk that truly hides the coward within.  

Look tough, look like you run the show, but inside the only intuition is to run away, and Cooke has been doing that for years. Cooke plays with an edge, no doubt about that.  But when you go over the edge and throw cheap hits like the one he threw on Roy, as well as dozens of others through out his career as a Canuck, you have to be ready to be held accountable and the way Cooke has run away or failed to drop the gloves, it can be hard to have true justice done upon him.

My advice for the Cookie Monster: Play your game, run around, throw hits, get in people’s faces, but if you are going to go over the edge and throw cheap shots … stand up and be a man about it.  Face the heat and drop the gloves like you are supposed to in situations like that.  Get rid of that stupid, smart ass, cowardly grin and have some honor about what you’re doing before someone smacks that smile clean off of your face. 

If you’re afraid of getting hurt in a fight, just take some lessons from Mike Weaver. 

Trade Rumour A Source of Hilarity

Sundin Sweden

As I was driving around Port Coquitlam, B.C. today, I found myself in absolute hysterics, laughing so hard that I am sure the people in the cars beside me thought I was crazy.

What made me laugh so hard? 

Are you ready for this?

The newest trade rumour has the Vancouver Canucks trading Ryan Kesler, Luc Bourdon, Cory Schneider and a first-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Mats Sundin.

I’ll pause until you finish laughing…

Okay time is up.

The most ridiculous thing is, according to the poll question on the Team 1040 this afternoon, is that 13 per cent of people out there believe the Canucks should actually throw away four prospects to the Leafs for a 36-year-old center. 

It looks good on paper but paper does not do reality any justice.  If we were to look at the difference between how good a team is on paper compared to reality, lets look at the 1997 Vancouver Canucks roster, which included the likes of Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, Alex Mogilny and Kirk McLean, just to name a few.  That team fell apart half way through the season and the Canucks failed to make the playoffs. 

Difference between paper and reality.

Reality.  As much as Luc Bourdon has failed to impress those in Canuck land despite having played well for a kid in his position, you need him right now.  Why?  Well, incase you haven’t noticed, the Canucks defence corps can’t seem to stay healthy.  If and when the Canucks defence gets healthy is the grossly overused phrase in the city today.  Even if they did all (Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell, Aaron Miller and Lukas Krajicek) come back, Sami Salo is almost a sure bet to go down, and that’s not a knock him, that’s just the reality of it.

Kesler

And why on earth would you want to rid yourself of Kesler?  Okay, so he doesn’t have the offensive numbers that everyone expects out of him, but he does a whole helluva lot for this hockey club.  Next to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, he is the most reliable forward on the Canucks. 

Now, Sundin is a good center for the Maple Leafs.  But this guy has never won anything in the Stanley Cup playoffs, in fact, since he came to Toronto, the Buds haven’t made it to the Stanley Cup finals.  He won gold with Sweden at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, but no team in the NHL could be as good as Team Sweden was.  That team could’ve run the show on the Anaheim Ducks from last year with the talent they had.  The Canucks, or any other team in the NHL, isn’t Team Sweden from 2006, so we can throw out the Olympics.  The Olympics aren’t the NHL, and you don’t need a maximum of 16 wins in a maximum 28 games to win in the Olympics, you need three wins in a maximum of eight games.

These big deals aren’t always the answer.

If the two big trades of last year (Peter Forsberg to Nashville and Keith Tkachuk to Atlanta, both for role players and draft picks) taught us anything, it is that the big, sexy trade isn’t all it is cracked up to be.  Nashville went out in six games, Atlanta in four.  Gamble the future away for a first-round exit.  Yep.

The future for the Canucks is now.  You can’t disagree with that.  But to throw away three good, young players for a 36-year-old unrestricted free agent who may not resign here in the summer … come on people, get with it.  There is no guarantee that Sundin would be able to make a difference for the Canucks, and if he is traded here, there is nothing that says he will come back or not.  And if he doesn’t come back?  Well, then you’ve lost a second-line center, two prospects and a first-round pick and all for nothing.

You may as well go to the casino and throw down roughly $2 million on the number 13 at the roulette table.  Good luck!

Canucks Finally Get Two Points for Effort

Burrows

At least for tonight, the Vancouver Canucks feel like they have had a massive load lifted off of their shoulders. 

Winless on a four-game road trip that saw them fall at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3, the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout and then to the Dallas Stars 3-2 in another shootout, the Canucks limped into Atlanta to take on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers in an attempt to salvage four of a possible eight points on the road trip.

After two periods, it looked bleak.  Down 1-0, and having been outplayed in the second period, the Canucks found a way to score twice in the third period – both goals weren’t necessarily Highlight of the Night candidates, but beggars can’t be choosers – on a powerplay goal from Daniel Sedin and then a backhander from agitator Alex Burrows. 

Once the Canucks captured the lead, it turned into the Roberto Luongo show – with a little help from Mattias Ohlund, who saved the win with a toe save off of Kovalchuk in the dying seconds with the Canucks hanging onto that 2-1 lead like Maggie Simpson and that damned pacifier she always has – as Luongo robbed former Canuck Steve McCarthy from point blank range.

If you’re a Canucks fan who’s thinking of taking that leap off the Canucks bandwagon, you can’t help but feel a sense of relief and positivity for this team. 

They were down going into the third period, mustered a comeback and kept the electrifying Kovalchuk off the score sheet with the likes of Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Taylor Pyatt, Luc Bourdon and Sami Salo.

Atlanta

Hats off to the Canucks for coming back, getting the win and doing it with such a young and inexperienced defence.  Playing for the Canucks isn’t easy.  You are under the microscope of a lot of media and a nation of fans who seem to whither and fall more times in the winter then May Flies in the summer, and kids like Alex Edler, Nathan McIver, Bourdon and Mike Weaver have played admirably – albeit with very little to show for it in terms of the standings – in the last few days.

Is this one of those wins that could change the momentum of a season?  Well, if anything, it shows to the young guys on the team who may have been lacking some confidence having gone winless on this road trip before heading into Atlanta that they can win at this level, and winning is contageous, just like losing is.

When you find ways to win, when you play the next game, you can draw on what you did right last game and play with more upside and swaggar, and one or two wins in a row can turn into a 12-game winning streak.  Funny how it can work.

Now, just because the Canucks won a game against Atlanta, it does not mean they are out of the woods.  Far from it.  The Canucks can’t get complacent with their most recent success, because one win on a four-game road trip is hardly success.  However, what this win is a positive step forward.  Alain Vigneault has seen his team work hard, but come up short time and time again in the past two or three weeks, but with the win comes the idea that hard work will pay off, and this win should act as incentive to keep on winning.